|The Old Man and the Sea|
|Publisher||Charles Scribner's Sons|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.52 20|
|LC Classification||PS3515.E37 O4 1995|
|Preceded by||Across the River and Into the Trees|
|Followed by||A Moveable Feast|
The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by Ernest Hemingway, written in Cuba in 1951 and published in 1952. It was the last major work of fiction to be produced by Hemingway and published in his lifetime. One of his most famous works, it centers upon Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. 
Written in 1951, and published in 1952, The Old Man and the Sea is the final work published during Hemingway's lifetime. The book was featured in Life Magazine on September 1, 1952, and five million copies of the magazine were sold in two days. The Old Man and the Sea also became a Book-of-the Month selection, and made Hemingway a celebrity. Published in book form on 1 September 1952, the first edition print run was 50,000 copies. The novella received the Pulitzer Prize in May, 1952, and was specifically cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. The success of The Old Man and the Sea made Hemingway an international celebrity. The Old Man and the Sea is taught at schools around the world and continues to earn foreign royalties.
Hemingway wanted to use the story of the old man, Santiago, to show the honor in struggle and to draw biblical parallels to life in his modern world. Hemingway had initially planned to use Santiago's story, which became The Old Man and the Sea, as part of a intimacy between mother and son and also the fact of relationships that cover most of the book relate to the Bible, which he referred to as "The Sea Book". (He also referred to the Bible as the "Sea of Knowledge" and other such things.) Some aspects of it did appear in the posthumously published Islands in the Stream. Positive feedback he received for On the Blue Water (Esquire, April 1936) led him to rewrite it as an independent work. The book is generally classified as a novella because it has no chapters or parts and is slightly longer than a short story.
The Old Man and the Sea recounts an epic battle of wills between an old, experienced fisherman and a giant marlin said to be the largest catch of his life. It opens by explaining that the fisherman, who is named Santiago, has gone 84 days without catching any fish at all. He is apparently so unlucky that his young apprentice, Manolin, has been forbidden by his parents to sail with the old man and been ordered to fish with more successful fishermen. Still dedicated to the old man, however, the boy visits Santiago's shack each night, hauling back his fishing gear, feeding him and discussing American baseball—most notably Santiago's idol, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago tells Manolin that on the next day, he will venture far out into the Gulf to fish, confident that his unlucky streak is near its end.
Thus on the eighty-fifth day, Santiago sets out alone, taking his skiff far onto the Gulf. He sets his lines and, by noon of the first day, a big fish that he is sure is a marlin takes his bait. Unable to pull in the great marlin, Santiago instead finds the fish pulling his skiff. Two days and two nights pass in this manner, during which the old man bears the tension of the line with his body. Though he is wounded by the struggle and in pain, Santiago expresses a compassionate appreciation for his adversary, often referring to him as a brother. He also determines that because of the fish's great dignity, no one will be worthy of eating the marlin.
On the third day of the ordeal, the fish begins to circle the skiff, indicating his tiredness to the old man. Santiago, now completely worn out and almost in delirium, uses all the strength he has left in him to pull the fish onto its side and stab the marlin with a harpoon, thereby ending the long battle between the old man and the tenacious fish.
Santiago straps the marlin to the side of his skiff and heads home, thinking about the high price the fish will bring him at the market and how many people he will feed.
While Santiago continues his journey back to the shore, sharks are attracted to the trail of blood left by the marlin in the water. The first, a great mako shark, Santiago kills with his harpoon, losing that weapon in the process. He makes a new harpoon by strapping his knife to the end of an oar to help ward off the next line of sharks; in total, five sharks are slain and many others are driven away. But the sharks keep coming, and by nightfall the sharks have almost devoured the marlin's entire carcass, leaving a skeleton consisting mostly of its backbone, its tail and its head. Finally reaching the shore before dawn on the next day, he struggles on the way to his shack, carrying the heavy mast on his shoulder. Once home, he slumps onto his bed and enters a very deep sleep.
A group of fishermen gather the next day around the boat where the fish's skeleton is still attached. One of the fishermen measures it to be eighteen feet from nose to tail. Tourists at the nearby café mistakenly take it for a shark. Manolin, worried during the old man's endeavor, cries upon finding him safe asleep. The boy brings him newspapers and coffee. When the old man wakes, they promise to fish together once again. Upon his return to sleep, Santiago dreams of his youth—of white lions on an African beach.
The Old Man and the Sea allows various interpretations. Hemingway emphasizes that
"No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. ... I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things".
The Old Man and the Sea served to reinvigorate Hemingway's literary reputation and prompted a reexamination of his entire body of work. The novella was initially received with much popularity; it restored many readers' confidence in Hemingway's capability as an author. Its publisher, Scribner's, on an early dust jacket, called the novella a "new classic," and many critics favorably compared it with such works as William Faulkner's "The Bear" and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.
Following such acclaim, however, a school of critics emerged that interpreted the novella as a disappointing minor work. For example, critic Philip Young provided an admiring review in 1952, just following The Old Man and the Sea's publication, in which he stated that it was the book "in which Hemingway said the finest single thing he ever had to say as well as he could ever hope to say it." However, in 1966, Young claimed that the "failed novel" too often "went way out." These self-contradictory views show that critical reaction ranged from adoration of the book's mythical, pseudo-religious intonations to flippant dismissal as pure fakery. The latter is founded in the notion that Hemingway, once a devoted student of realism, failed in his depiction of Santiago as a supernatural, clairvoyant impossibility.
Joseph Waldmeir's essay entitled "Confiteor Hominem: Ernest Hemingway's Religion of Man" is one of the most famed favorable critical readings of the novella—and one which has defined analytical considerations since. Perhaps the most memorable claim therein is Waldmeir's answer to the question—What is the book's message?
Waldmeir was one of the most prominent critics to wholly consider the function of the novella's Christian imagery, made most evident through Santiago's blatant reference to the crucifixion following his sighting of the sharks that reads:
Waldmeir's analysis of this line, supplemented with other instances of similar symbolism, caused him to claim that The Old Man and the Sea was a seminal work in raising Hemingway's "philosophy of Manhood" to a religious level. This hallmark criticism stands as one of the most durable, positive treatments of the novella.
On the other hand, one of the most outspoken critics of The Old Man and the Sea is Robert P. Weeks. His 1962 piece "Fakery in The Old Man and the Sea" presents his claim that the novella is a weak and unexpected divergence from the typical, realistic Hemingway (referring to the rest of Hemingway's body of work as "earlier glories"). In juxtaposing this novella against Hemingway's previous works, Weeks contends:
Aside from all else, however, some tend to believe that "The Old Man and the Sea," was nothing more than an allegorical representation of the enmity Hemingway felt towards the criticism of his most recent work, Across the River and into the Trees. Considering the fact that his previous novels had been embraced and even coveted by the world public, the abject disdain for his latest novel not only caused him great emotional pain, but also served as a bellows of a fire pushing him towards creating a new work of fiction which might capture the minds and hearts of the proletariat and critical public. The fact that the protagonist of "Old Man and the Sea," Santiago, is the only elderly protagonist whom Hemingway ever portrays, should be duly noted. The aged Santiago character lends insight into Hemingway's psyche at the time, and that he may have perceived himself, however martyr-esque, the beaten up old man who still felt a need to fight the good fight. And in the story, we notice that after a prolonged period of stasis, he finally makes the prodigal "big catch," only to see it snipped at and eaten away as he tried his best to bring it to fruition, both financially and personally.
The Old Man and the Sea led to numerous accolades for Hemingway, including the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He also earned the Award of Merit Medal for the Novel from the American Academy of Arts and Letters that same year. The Nobel Prize in Literature came in 1954, "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style."
|Awards and achievements|
The Caine Mutiny
by Herman Wouk
|Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
no award given (1954)
A Fable (1955)
by William Faulkner
|Nobel Prize in Literature
Old Man and the Sea
He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of a permanent defeat.
The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
"Santiago," the boy said to him as they climbed the back from where the skiff was hauled up. "I could go with you again. We've made some money."
The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved
"No," the old man said. "You're with a lucky boat. Stay with
"But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and
then we caught big ones every day for three weeks."
"I remember," the old man said. "I know you did not leave me
because you doubted."
"It was papa [that] made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey
"I know," the old man said. "It is quite normal."
"He hasn't much faith."
"No," the old man said. "But we have. Haven't we?"
"Yes," the boy said. "Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and
then we'll take the stuff home."
"Why not?" the old man said. "Between fishermen."
They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of
the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen,
looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke
politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their
lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The
successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered
their marlin out and carried them laid full length across two
planks, with two men staggering at the end of each plank, to the
fish house where they waited for the ice truck to carry them to the
market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them to the
shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted
on a block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and
their hides skinned out and their flesh cut into strips for
When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.
"Santiago," the boy said.
"Yes," the old man said. He was holding his glass and thinking
of many years ago.
"Can I go out to get sardines for you tomorrow?"
"No. Go and play baseball. I can still row and Rogelio will
throw the net."
"I would like to go. If I cannot fish with you, I would like to
serve in some way."
"You bought me a beer," the old man said. "You are already a
"How old was I when you first took me in a boat?"
"Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too
green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you
"I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thward
breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing
me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the
whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a
tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me."
"Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to
"I remember everything from when we first went together."
The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving
"If you were my boy I'd take you out and gamble," he said. "But
you are your father's and your mother's and you are in a lucky
"May I get the sardines? I know where I can get four baits
"I have mine left from today. I put them in salt in the
"Let me get four fresh ones."
"One," the old man said. His hope and his confidence had never
gone. But now they were freshening as when the breeze rises.
"Two," the boy said.
"Two," the old man agreed. "You didn't steal them?"
"I would," the boy said. "But I bought these."
"Thank you," the old man said. He was too simple to wonder when
he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he
knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true
"Tomorrow is going to be a good day with this current," he
"Where are you going?" the boy asked.
"Far out to come in when the wind shifts. I want to be out
before it is light."
"I'll try to get him to work far out," the boy said. "Then if
you hook something truly big we can come to your aid."
"He does not like to work too far out."
"No," the boy said. "But I will see something that he cannot see
such as a bird working and get him to come out after
"Are his eyes that bad?"
"He is almost blind."
"It is strange," the old man said. "He never went turtle-ing.
That is what kills the eyes."
"But you went turtle-ing for years off the Mosquito Coast and
your eyes are good."
"I am a strange old man."
"But are you strong enough now for a truly big fish?"
"I think so. And there are many tricks."
"Let us take the stuff home," the boy said. "So I can get the
cast net and go after the sardines."
They picked up the gear from the boat. The old man carried the
mast on his shoulder and the boy carried the wooden box with the
coiled, hard-braided brown lines, the gaff and the harpoon with its
shaft. The box with the baits was under the stern of the skiff
along with the club that was used to subdue the big fish when they
were brought alongside. No one would steal from the old man but it
was better to take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was
bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local people would
steal from him, the old man thought that a gaff and a harpoon were
needless temptations to leave in a boat.
They walked up the road together to the old man's shack and went
in through its open door. The old man leaned the mast with its
wrapped sail against the wall and the boy put the box and the other
gear beside it. The mast was nearly as long as the one room of the
shack. The shack was made of the tough budshields of the royal palm
which are called guano and in it there was a bed, a table, one
chair, and a place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal. On the
brown walls of the flattened, overlapping leaves of the sturdy
fibered guano there was a picture in color of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus and another of the Virgin of Cobre. These were relics of his
wife. Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the
wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see
it and it was on the shelf in the corner under his clean
"What do you have to eat?" the boy asked.
"A pot of yellow rice with fish. Do you want some?"
"No. I will eat at home. Do you want me to make the fire?"
"No. I will make it later on. Or I may eat the rice cold."
"May I take the cast net?"
There was no cast net and the boy remember when they had sold
it. But they went through this fiction every day. There was no pot
of yellow rice and fish and the boy knew this too.
"Eighty-five is a lucky number," the old man said. "How would
you like to see me bring one in that dressed out over a thousand
"I'll get the cast net and go for sardines. Will you sit in the sun in the doorway?"